Now that’s customer service

January 19, 2009

A couple of years ago I was mightily impressed by a gentleman (whose name I can’t recall) from the Mandarin Oriental hotel group. At the Smile Conference 2006 in fact – originally billed to be Liam Lambert, but not he. Anyhow, the Mandarin Oriental just looked like a fantabulous place to stay. This Christmas, we escaped to Las Vegas (did I tell you that already?) and on the way back were flying out of San Francisco.

The last visit to San Francisco was a nightmare – we ended up in the faultiest of towers (I’ll tell you my “What, no tip?” story another time…) and it’s hard to find a hotel that is perfectly happy to accept smokers and not dogs and not the other way around in San Francisco. I find that bizarre. So I saw there was a Mandarin Oriental and we decided to treat ourselves. Just one night. Give it a try. Ohhh my goodness…

Now it wasn’t cheap, about 320 USD for one night for a double room which had the most incredible views across SF Bay. But it really was luxury. Not just the facilities, linens and decor, but the way we were treated. It was as if we were old friends coming back home on a visit. It went right across the board, from the doorman to the porter to the receptionist to the barman. The staff all took the same time to look us in the eye, address us by name and treat us like human beings – without the sort of falseness that often comes across from American hospitality staff. You really should stay there just to get breakfast room service – what an experience.

Why am I posting now – well they sent a request to fill out a satisfaction survey, which I did. They asked for comments and I said that I know that it costs money to keep the place so beautiful and the staff so excellent, but I’d love it if it didn’t cost so much to stay there – as I couldn’t really justify a long stay at their prices.

They sent a personal email reply, thanking me for my comments and letting me know they would be passed on to the staff. They also said to keep an eye on the website for special deals that might make a longer stay more economical. I wish! Just looking at the prices for a stay in their Boston property makes my heart pump (545 USD per night)… I do understand, I really do, and yes it is absolute luxury…

It’s not rocket science to acknowledge a survey response with a personal email, but very good customer service. I am a fan, and only wish I had loans in Anglo Irish (’cause I think that you’re meant to have as much on deposit with them as you have in loans with them – where’s that at?) so that I could go and stay there again soon.

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What Makes a Conference?

January 15, 2009

A very happy new year to you. We escaped Christmas and New Year madness (well, Irish style!) by heading off to Las Vegas. We hoped for sunshine and a bit of warmth. We got some sunshine, and lots of warmth – but only from the heaters inside the casinos 🙂 It was an excellent break.

But – to the point of the post – what makes a conference? How many people ought to be present for a meeting to be termed a Conference? The classic definition of a conference is a prearranged meeting for consultation or exchange of information or discussion (especially one with a formal agenda).

For me, a pre-arranged meeting of fewer than 25 people is a large meeting rather than a conference… hmmm… let me know what you think defines a conference by leaving a comment below.

This post was sparked by an advertisement in StandOut magazine, where Sandown Park in the UK are offering a complimentary conference for 10 people as a prize.

Darn it – More Lessons Learned

November 28, 2008

In the spirit of using those ghastly experiences one has with various companies and organisations as lessons learned, here are this weeks lessons:

1. Going Green – keep using online, web based systems for invoicing, customer retention, information. We fill up our green bin a lot faster than we should because so many companies insist on sending out paper. Someone ought to do a case study on Sage, for example. We left NovaUCD more than 18 months ago. We have rung, written, rung, written, emailed, rung and written to Sage to say stop sending us information to our NovaUCD address. These guys sell a customer relationship management system and they can’t manage a simple change of address.

2. Support & Maintenance Contracts should be for support & maintenance and your customer ought to request it. Do not send out an invoice to a customer who has

a) told you that they no longer use your product

b) been quite vocal about it on public forums

c) even spoken with your product manager to tell them why you no longer use their product

Don’t then send a credit note against that invoice and a letter telling them about upgrading their licence through the support contract that you have just issued a credit note against the invoice for… yes, I stopped following this too.

How did they know that I had stopped using their product? Well after the last invoice, I rang them up to tell them that. So they issued a credit note. In that phone call I told them for the 18th time (yes, once a month) that we had moved offices.

Please please please stop sending me this time wasting, environment killing heap of spam. I moved payroll software to Payback.ie because they are upfront about their charges, it’s all online, their support is brilliant, they understand small businesses and provide excellent solutions for us. I moved bookeeping to SortMyBooks.ie because it was a hell of a lot more flexible and user friendly than Sage products and they’re an Irish company and their support is brilliant. I moved invoicing to Freshbooks.com because it’s online, flexible, their support is incredible and it does what it says on the tin.

Sage just doesn’t get it.

Growing Your Business…

November 20, 2008

This Saturday I get to stand in front of a crowd of small business owners and pontificate on growing your business through excellence in customer service. On my mind recently has been the issue of Software as a Service – because that’s what we deliver with our online booking system. One of the main reasons we’ve been as busy as we have been (and I do have to say somewhat successfull) is that whilst we deliver software as a service (in that it’s a hosted application and not a boxed product) we concentrate very hard on delivering services with the software.

I wonder if there’s a new term for that – SaaSwS perhaps? For us, it’s pretty obvious that not everyone is going to want to build their own web page or booking form or set up their own online payment pages. They want someone else to do it for them, whilst they concentrate on what they’re good at : organising their event or selling their stands. Our challenge is to keep the cost of the services reasonable enough. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t as people’s perceptions of what things should cost are so broad and variable.

Had a lovely conversation yesterday with an academic who has tried out a little bit of entrepreneurship. We worked with him as co-chair on a conference earlier this year and he was so “massively impressed” (his words!) by the service we offer that he’s going to bat for using our service on another conference next year even though his colleagues (who weren’t involved in the first one) want to use another set up that has a lower obvious cost…  Although he knows as well as I that the actual cost will be higher than using us.

It was an inspiring conversation, and makes me all misty eyed as I heard a happy customer explain to me why he would be insisting his colleagues used our service. Wish I could have videotaped it! Darn, why didn’t I think of that at the time.

Now if we could just Bring Back Bertie

November 5, 2008

I stayed up late last night with my fingers crossed that Obama would make it – what a sigh of relief! Now we’ll hopefully see some optimism come into the marketplace – although I could do without the dollar strengthening right now. Ah well, you lose some, you lose some.

If we could now just bring back Bertie, I’d really begin to feel hopeful. Who’s with me on the campaign trail?

Proud to be a Friend of Tricia Murphy

October 23, 2008

I have a stolen 15 minutes thanks to Dublin traffic. Left the office in DunLaoghaire at 5.00 to make Clontarf Castle for 6.30 to give the Networking Queen of Ireland (Tricia Murphy in case you don’t already know) a small show of support in her sponsored head shave (it’s not too late to sponsor her!). It’s also Robert’s 40th birthday today and we arranged late celebrations so as I could get over there and back.

Bit of a rock and a hard place – Robert is just about the best husband a woman could have, and I’d like to think I’d drop everything and anything for him. He loves birthdays though, and this one is a bit special. But Tricia – she’s been hit with her “little nasty” and in typical Tricia style has turned a negative into a positive and has raised almost 4,500 Euros for her charity. The woman has such courage, generosity and kindness it would be criminal not to support her.

So we compromised with a late celebration and at 6.45 I was still sitting on Erne St after having travelled less than one mile in an hour and a half. The traffic just wasn’t moving, and no way would I make Clontarf Castle by 7.00 (which is when I’d have to leave to get back in time). Robert got an extra birthday pressie of a lovely bunch of flowers, and I’ll just have to think of some other way to show Tricia how much I admire her, and how my life is enriched by having a her as a friend.

People ask me about work/life balance and why I’m so against the work/life balance thing. It’s because it’s only through work that I get to meet such fantabulous people, and have the pleasure of getting to know them and have them as friends as well.

I’m proud to be a friend of Tricia’s and Happy Birthday lovely hubby…

How Wrong Can They Get it?

October 18, 2008

I know this isn’t strictly business, and possibly doesn’t belong on a business blog, but I just can’t sit here and not say anything about the recently announced 2009 budget. Have they completely lost the plot?

Remove medical cards from the over 70’s – do you really think that Michael O’Leary is going to use his medical card when he’s in his 70’s? Or Tom Parlon for that matter? What’s the point in spending millions means testing the elderly? Maybe it’s a cunning plot to get the Health Services Executive working more closely with the Department of Social Welfare and do some team building – pretty darn expensive if so.

1% Income Levy On All Earnings – Where’s that at? The person who manages to get themselves a job at minimum wage can’t afford 1% per week, they’ll be better off on social welfare. Ho hum. Let’s watch that one backfire.

Pumping up the Construction Industry – yet again. Don’t they get it? To watch the head of the construction industry federation on the telly claiming to be quite pleased with the budget made me almost gag.

Cowenomics? Pantomime, IMO – and I’m normally quite an admirer of Fianna Fail. Take it back to the drawing board for heavens sake.

A Pretty Bad Hair Day

October 13, 2008

You may know Tricia Murphy (AKA the Networking Queen of Ireland) – you may have attended one of her salons or been a delegate at a conference where she entertained and enlightened you on the subject of networking. If you don’t know Tricia then I hope you get to meet her in the future.

Tricia is passionate about networking – about its benefits and about its purpose. When she takes to the floor with her signature bell or hat or crown, she makes everyone feel good about themselves. She has a huge warmth and kindness and openness to everyone.

Recently she was diagnosed with what she calls herself “a little nasty” and since she will lose all her hair to chemotherapy soon, she is going to get it shaved off and donate the funds to the APA – a charity in Africa that she is involved with. This is typical Tricia – turning the negative into a positive. You can help her to do that by going to:

http://www.mycharity.ie/event/tricia_murphys_sponsored_shave/

Where you will be able to donate online.

Good luck soldier! We’ll be with you all the way…

Finally! October is here…

October 1, 2008

You know all those plans you had for the Summer? How you’d use the quiet time to reflect, organise, prepare and plan? Did it work for you? Not for me. Although I got a little bit of time off, most of the last few months have been about panic – as people decided at the last minute to go ahead with their events and realised they needed a booking system in place ASAP.

The stress that places on a small company is awful – although I’m a deadline junkie (as well as a slot junkie!) – it means that you spend your life in these frantic periods followed by exhausted relief. We pride ourselves on always meeting deadlines, try not to promise the impossible and deliver 95% of the time. But I sure wish there’d be some stability around. Not a return to the glory days, but a little stability – something that makes people feel confident in making plans again.

The events business has changed so much over the last 5 years – deadlines and planning times were already shrinking. This past few months has shrunk planning time even further and it’s enormously challenging. Roll on 2009! While we’re at it, take a look at the Santa Train at Rathwood Garden Centre in Tullow, Co Carlow. We love it and I can’t wait to take my horrendously advanced 2 year old grand niece Suzannah on it!

Happy Autumn!

Surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement

July 21, 2008

This is what Seth Godin says that conference organisers need to offer attendees. I’m a regular reader and ardent follower of this man – how he manages to post so much insightful, interesting, thought provoking and just plain common sense so often is incredible.

My top 3 favourite Seth Godin posts are:

On how taking those few extra seconds to smile and be welcoming won’t cost you much…

On how to organise a room for a conference… the psychology of seating

On how to make money out of blogging – or not…

This last one is quite topical over this side of the big pond, as some Irish bloggers have been up in arms about being used as an advertising channel. Hmmm…